June 25, 2024

The city of Fort Lauderdale, in Florida, was swindled out of $1.2 million by fraudsters posing as a construction firm, triggering a police investigation.

The hefty sum was paid out on September 14, after the city received what they thought was a legitimate invoice from Moss Construction, the company constructing a new police station in the coastal city north of Miami. This information was provided by Ali Adamson, spokesperson for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, in an official statement.

The fraudulent nature of the invoice was uncovered within 24 hours.

Adamson took this opportunity to remind everyone to always be cautious when processing payment requests, and to remain vigilant to potential scams; she stated in a public declaration.

She informed USA TODAY that the Fort Lauderdale Police Department is working closely with other relevant law enforcement agencies to identify precisely what transpired. However, she refrained from revealing further information, including the destination of the transferred funds.

Understanding Phishing

According to the Federal Trade Commission, phishing refers to an internet scam that targets individuals, businesses, and organizations by sending messages through email, text, or direct messaging that seemingly originate from a credible source. These phishing messages frequently request personal identity information, which is then used to get into existing accounts.

Spear phishing, a common form of phishing, involves the attacker using detailed company and employee information to make their messages appear more plausible and persuading as stated by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre.

As reported by the Anti-Phishing Working Group, there were over 4.7 million recorded phishing attacks in the last year.

The City Intends to Recover the Money

The Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Dean Trantalis, has announced to various media outlets that the city is attempting to retrieve the lost money.

While speaking to WSVN, the Mayor explained that the scam was not a simple act of sending an email asking for the money. The request was backed by comprehensive documents and multiple paperwork, which added credibility to the deception.

The Mayor’s chief of staff, Scott Wyman, informed that Trantalis was unavailable to comment on the matter on Monday as he was away.

‘Preemptive Steps’ Were Undertaken Following Past Phishing Scams

While this is not the first instance of an attack on the city, it is the first successful one.

City Manager Greg Chavarria told USA TODAY that although the city had been targeted by phishing scams in the past, they had “adopted preemptive measures to minimize such risks.”

“This is an important reminder that anyone can be a fraud victim, and we all need to take all possible measures to protect ourselves,” he pointed out.

Moss Construction stated, “Criminal actors took advantage of our good name and reputation to attempt fraud. This case is being actively investigated by law enforcement authorities.”

Preventing Scams

To prevent becoming victim to phishing scams, the Federal Trade Commission recommends making use of security software on your devices, keeping software on mobile phones up to date, and regularly backing up data.

If you receive an email that appears suspicious, you should check for typos and verify the sender’s identity. Warning signs might be an email with a generic greeting, a notification that your account is on hold due to billing issues, or a message asking you to click a link.

The FTC also advises reporting phishing scams to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.